Breaking News Update: This story broke while I was writing this post:
The nationwide manhunt for Steve Stephens, the man accused of posting video of a murder to Facebook, ended Tuesday when his body was found in a vehicle in Erie, Pa., police said.
Pennsylvania State Police confirmed to NBC News that Stephens had been spotted by Pennsylvania State Police shortly before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. After a brief pursuit, police said Stephens shot and killed himself.
A couple more shoes dropped this morning in the endless Trump-Russia saga.
Bloomberg reported more details about Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s involvement in the campaign and transition. Bloomberg’s sources tried to downplay the notorious Seychelles meeting between Prince and a Putin aide and confidant and claimed it had nothing to do with Trump. Prince was often in Trump Tower, but was sneaked in through the back way to avoid being seen.
Yet over a two to three month period around the election, Prince met several times with top aides as the incoming government took shape, offering ideas on how to fight terror and restructure the country’s major intelligence agencies, according to information provided by five people familiar with the meetings. Among those he conferred with was Flynn, a member of the transition team who joined the administration and was later dismissed, some of the people said. He discussed possible government appointees with people in the private sector, one person said. Prince himself told several people that while he was not offering his advice in any official capacity, his role was significant….
The meetings occurred in Trump Tower, the administration’s transition office in Washington and elsewhere, according to people familiar with them. In one informal discussion in late November, Prince spoke openly with two members of Trump’s transition team on a train bound from New York to Washington. He boarded the same Acela as Kellyanne Conway and they sat together. Joining the conversation at one point was Kevin Harrington, a longtime associate of Trump adviser Peter Thiel who is now on the National Security Council. They discussed, in broad terms, major changes the incoming administration envisioned for the intelligence community, as recounted by a person on the train who overheard their conversation.
The article also discusses Trump’s involvement with Peter Thiel who, along with Prince, made large contributions to a PAC run by Robert Mercer (who got Bannon and Conway involved in the Trump campaign).
A longtime critic of government defense and security policies, Prince advocated a restructuring of security agencies as well as a thorough rethink of costly defense programs, even if it meant canceling existing major contracts in favor of smaller ones, said a person familiar with the matter.
Newsweek has a story on Steve Bannon’s ideological ties to Russia.
Bannon, a former banker turned film producer and right-wing polemicist, has praised not only Putin but also a brand of Russian mystical conservative nationalism known as Eurasianism, which is the closest the Kremlin has to a state ideology. Eurasianism proclaims that Russia’s destiny is to lead all Slavic and Turkic people in a grand empire to resist corrupt Western values. Its main proponent is Alexander Dugin. With his long beard and burning blue eyes, Dugin looks like a firebrand prophet. His philosophy glorifies the Russian Empire—while Bannon and the conservative website that he founded, Breitbart News, revived the slogan of “America first,” which Trump later adopted in his campaign….
Yet Bannon and Dugin have common cause in the idea that global elites have conspired against ordinary people—and the old order must be overthrown. “We have arrived at a moment where the world is discovering a new model of ideologies. The election of Trump shows that clearly,” Dugin tells Newsweek.
Bannon, in turn, seems to admire Dugin—as well as Putin’s Russia—for putting traditional values at the heart of a revival of national greatness. “We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes, particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism,” Bannon said at a Vatican-organized conference in 2014. “When you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of [Putin’s] beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism.” Bannon declined to respond to Newsweek’s questions about his position on Russia and Dugin.
Bannon and Dugin’s speeches and writings indicate that their common enemies are secularism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism—and what Dugin calls the “globalized and internationalist capitalist liberal elite.” In both Bannon’s and Dugin’s worldview, the true global ideological struggle is between culturally homogenous groups founded on Judeo-Christian values practicing humane capitalism on one side and, on the other, an international crony-capitalist network of bankers and big business.
Bannon’s fix for the world is to revive the nation-state—precisely what Putin’s Kremlin is promoting as it backs anti–European Union candidates from Hungary to France. “I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing,” Bannon told an audience of Catholic thinkers at the Vatican by video-link from the U.S. in 2014. “Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism. [People] want to see the sovereignty for their country; they want to see nationalism for their country. They don’t believe in this kind of pan–European Union, or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States. They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up, where freedoms were controlled at the local level.”
It’s not clear to me how Bannon can accept the obvious “crony-capitalism” of the Trump family crime syndicate.
There are more rumors than ever going around that indictments could be coming out of the Trump-Russia investigation, and it’s difficult to know what to believe. I’m just trying to be patient and keep an open but skeptical mind. I did come across a couple of interesting pieces on Rudy Giuliani and Carter Page respectively. They are both too long and complex to excerpt, but here are the links:
Grant Stern at The Stern Facts: Is Rudy Giuliani The Mastermind Behind The Trump Russia Dossier’s Massive Oil Deal?
From Bright Young Things, an interview with Carter Page that contains quite a bit of background information: A Conversation with Carter Page.
Also, Boris Epshteyn has a new gig on conservative radio: Sinclair Announces the Addition of Boris Epshteyn.
On the Kleptocracy front, Ivanka is reportedly cleaning up in the meetings she’s been attending.
The Associated Press: Ivanka’s biz prospers as politics mixes with business.
SHANGHAI (AP) — On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago….
As the first daughter crafts a political career from her West Wing office, her brand is flourishing, despite boycotts and several stores limiting her merchandise. U.S. imports, almost all of them from China, shot up an estimated 166 percent last year, while sales hit record levels in 2017. The brand, which Trump still owns, says distribution is growing. It has launched new activewear and affordable jewelry lines and is working to expand its global intellectual property footprint. In addition to winning the approvals from China, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for at least nine new trademarks in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. after the election.
The commercial currents of the Trump White House are unprecedented in modern American politics, ethics lawyers say. They have created an unfamiliar landscape riven with ethical pitfalls, and forced consumers and retailers to wrestle with the unlikely passions now inspired by Ivanka Trump’s mid-market collection of ruffled blouses, shifts and wedges.
Using the prestige of government service to build a brand is not illegal. But criminal conflict of interest law prohibits federal officials, like Trump and her husband, from participating in government matters that could impact their own financial interest or that of their spouse. Some argue that the more her business broadens its scope, the more it threatens to encroach on the ability of two trusted advisers to deliver credible counsel to the president on core issues like trade, intellectual property, and the value of the Chinese currency.
Some updates on the situation in North Korea:
Vanity Fair: Donald Trump Stumbles Toward War In East Asia.
How President Donald Trump intends to resolve the growing North Korean crisis remains unclear, though whether that is by design or reflects a lack of a coherent foreign policy is a matter of some debate. Over the past several weeks, as Kim has moved aggressively to advance his nuclear weapons program, the Trump administration has telegraphed a wide range of possibilities as to how the U.S. might respond. Last month, during his first major diplomatic tour of Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that “the policy of strategic patience has ended” and that “all options are on the table” for dealing with North Korea. On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence repeated that line while making a surprise appearance on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries, which have been locked in a military standoff since the suspension of the Korean War in 1953. “North Korea will do well not to test his resolve or strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” he added.
While the era of strategic patience may be over, the Trump administration is clearly taking some kind of strategic steps. Last week, the president announced that he had ordered an “armada” of military ships, including the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson and several nuclear submarines, to sail toward North Korea. NBC News reported that the National Security Council had presented Trump with a list of potential responses to North Korea, including moving missiles to South Korea or outright assassinating Kim. And while the White House quietly dismissed a subsequent report that Trump was prepared to launch a pre-emptive conventional strike if Kim reached for the nuclear trigger last weekend, as he had been expected to do, the president warned that the North Korean problem “will be taken care of” one way or another. On Monday, Pence also said that the U.S. would be open to securing the region “through peaceable means, through negotiations,” suggesting that Trump may be coming around to Beijing’s way of thinking.
The ambiguity of Trump’s warnings, combined with the credible threat that he might be crazy enough to see them through, has yielded some results. China appears to be working more closely with the U.S. then before to increase pressure on Kim—cooperation that Trump suggested on Twitter that he had bought by backing away from labeling China a “currency manipulator.” And Kim seemed to have called off his expected nuclear test—for now.
Is Trump embracing Nixon’s “madman theory” of foreign policy, or is he just plain crazy? It seems kind of a dangerous policy when you’re facing off against another madman.
A couple more links:
What stories are you following today?
Yesterday Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted about what many of us have been thinking:
O’Donnell devoted his show last night discussing the fact that we cannot possibly be sure that Trump didn’t unleash his ineffectual missile strike on a Syrian air base in coordination with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Here is O’Donnell’s epic rant:
Are we really supposed to believe that this classic narcissist, who clearly care not a whit for anyone but himself, has suddenly developed a conscience because he saw suffering Syrian children on TV? These are the same Syrian children whom he refuses to let into the U.S. because he fears they will grow up to be terrorists. Come on.
Of course plenty of young white male “journalists” swallowed the charade whole. Even Fareed Zacharia, who is usually quite prescient, plagiarized Van Jones’s pronouncement after Trump’s embarrassing exploitation of the wife of the Navy Seal who died in Trump’s first botched military action in Yemen.
What did Trump’s strike on Syria accomplish? Planes were taking off from the deliberately undamaged runways the next day, and The Washington Post reports today that: Warplanes return to Syrian town devastated by chemical attack.
Residents of the Syrian town devastated by a chemical-weapons attack earlier this week said that warplanes had returned to bomb them Saturday as Turkey described a retaliatory U.S. assault as “cosmetic” unless President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power.
At least 86 people died in Tuesday’s attack on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun, which left hundreds choking, fidgeting or foaming at the mouth.
Eyewitnesses said Saturday that fresh airstrikes on the area — now a virtual ghost town — had killed one woman and wounded several others. Photographs from the site showed a pair of green slippers, abandoned by a blood-spattered doorway.
The U.S. military launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield early Friday in the first direct American assault on Assad’s government since that country’s six-year civil war began. Although American officials have predicted that the strikes would result in a major shift of Assad’s calculus, they appear to be symbolic in practice.
Within 24 hours of the American strikes, monitoring groups reported that jets were once again taking off from the bombed Shayrat air base.
The strikes also gave Putin an excuse to cancel a previous deal with the U.S. that the two countries won’t directly engage each others’ forces–recall that Trump has already sent U.S. ground troops into Syria.
From the Associated Press: AP Explains: What is the US/Russia “deconfliction line?”
A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State-held territory across Syria, launching 24 strikes on Thursday alone, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command. The coalition includes some 60 countries, with some launching their own strikes into Syria. Russia is waging its own bombing campaign in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces, while the Syrian government has its own air force and air defense systems. That means a lot of aircraft are flying in a small airspace, which raises the danger for pilots. In November 2015, for instance, NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter, nearly sparking an international conflagration….
To protect pilots, Moscow and Washington opened a so-called “deconfliction line” after Russia began its bombing campaign in September 2015. On the U.S. side, it is run out of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the vast al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command. There, air traffic controllers and senior military officers are in contact with their Russian counterparts in Syria. They share coordinates and other data to avoid midair collisions or confrontations. One U.S. pilot flying missions over Syria credited his safety to it in a recent Associated Press interview….
On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, over a chemical weapons attack he blamed on Syria’s government. The U.S. used the “deconfliction line” to warn Russia ahead of time that the strike was coming. In the aftermath of the attack, which Syria said killed at least seven people, Russia announced it would suspend its cooperation in the information-sharing campaign, the first time the line has been severed. Russia still has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air defense missiles at its base near Latakia, Syria.
The article goes on the explain that the U.S. will try to keep negotiating with Russia on this issue. And guess what’s happening next week? The AP, via The Denver Post: Tillerson to visit Moscow as US, Russia face fresh tensions.
Tillerson will make the first visit to Russia by a Trump administration official just days after the U.S. launched cruise missiles against an air base in Syria, where Russia’s military is on the ground propping up its ally, President Bashar Assad. Until Thursday, the U.S. had avoided striking Assad’s forces, largely out of concern about being pulled into a military conflict with Russia.
Yes, Tillerson, who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship after inking an oil deal in 2012 with the Russian oil company Rosneft. Yes, the company that was mentioned in the famous Christopher Steele dossier. From Foreign Policy in February:
The dossier claims that a representative from Trump’s presidential campaign, Carter Page, met last July with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil monopoly Rosneft and a senior Kremlin official. Sechin reportedly offered brokerage on a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting sanctions, and Page was “non-committal in response.”
As CEO of Exxon, Tillerson represented a giant corporation that is desperate for the U.S. Sanctions on Russia to be lifted. Of course Tillerson and Trump can’t immediately lift the sanctions. That would be too obvious and would not be accepted by most members of Congress. But perhaps there is a plan.
Remember that meeting in the Seychelles between Betsy DeVos’s brother and huge Trump supporter Erik Prince with a close Putin confidant? From the Washington Post:
The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.
The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.
Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.
Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.
U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.
But . . . . according to the Post,
The Seychelles meeting came after separate private discussions in New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump with both Moscow and the Emirates…
Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters….
In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though officials found out because Zayed’s name appeared on a flight manifest.
Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.
Could they have been discussing plans for coordination in the Syrian conflict? Could Trump and Putin be planning and escalation of conflicts between U.S. and Russian forces that later could be “resolved” by loosening the U.S. sanctions?
Of course no one is talking about all these “coincidences” anymore, because Trump impressed so many male pundits with his “beautiful” missile display.
The media needs to stop the macho swaggering and get back to the Russia investigation immediately. I don’t know for sure what’s going on here, but there’s enough smoke emanating from the Trump gang to be signaling an eight-alarm fire.
I’m going to wrap this up, because this post is so late, but I want to share one more story. Alex Morris of Rolling Stone weighed in on Trump’s narcissism a few days ago: Trump and the Pathology of Narcissism. Here’s the intro:
At 6:35 a.m. on the morning of March 4th, President Donald Trump did what no U.S. president has ever done: He accused his predecessor of spying on him. He did so over Twitter, providing no evidence and – lest anyone miss the point – doubling down on his accusation in tweets at 6:49, 6:52 and 7:02, the last of which referred to Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Six weeks into his presidency, these unsubstantiated tweets were just one of many times the sitting president had rashly made claims that were (as we soon learned) categorically untrue, but it was the first time since his inauguration that he had so starkly drawn America’s integrity into the fray. And he had done it not behind closed doors with a swift call to the Department of Justice, but instead over social media in a frenzy of ire and grammatical errors. If one hadn’t been asking the question before, it was hard not to wonder: Is the president mentally ill?
It’s now abundantly clear that Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail was not just a “persona” he used to get elected – that he would not, in fact, turn out to be, as he put it, “the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?” It took all of 24 hours to show us that the Trump we elected was the Trump we would get when, despite the fact that he was president, that he had won, he spent that first full day in office focused not on the problems facing our country but on the problems facing him: his lackluster inauguration attendance and his inability to win the popular vote.
Since Trump first announced his candidacy, his extreme disagreeableness, his loose relationship with the truth and his trigger-happy attacks on those who threatened his dominance were the worrisome qualities that launched a thousand op-eds calling him “unfit for office,” and led to ubiquitous armchair diagnoses of “crazy.” We had never seen a presidential candidate behave in such a way, and his behavior was so abnormal that one couldn’t help but try to fit it into some sort of rubric that would help us understand. “Crazy” kind of did the trick.
The article summarizes the psychological assessments that have gradually emerged from professionals who were initially hesitant to discuss Trump’s personality because of the so-called “Goldwater Rule.” It’s a long, fascinating read.
What stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread and have a great weekend!
Breaking stories this morning:’
— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.
Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.
— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.
The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.
WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.
Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.
He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.
Also happening today:
As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.
Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.
“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.
“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.
While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.
“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.
I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.
Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.
Now I want to move on to what I believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.
After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.
Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:
TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”
TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”
Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”
I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.
HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.
HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.
TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —
HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?
TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.
THRUSH: Why? What do you think —
TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.
HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.
TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.
THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?
HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?
TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.
HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?
TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.
TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.
THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend
HABERMAN: From the previous administration.
TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.
THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.
Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.
Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.
As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:
Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.
The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.
“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”
And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.
Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.
If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia
Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.
I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.
What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.
His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.
We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.
Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.
Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.
Please go read the rest at the NYT.
It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?
I woke this morning at 5 am to the sound of a tornado warning going off on my smartphone. This is not exactly the most welcome sound at any early hour but particularly cruel on a Monday. Some how, it seems that our endless experience with tornadoes and the torrential rain, wind and hail are metaphorical harbingers of the state of our country. The weather is getting more extreme and severe and yet we’re in the process of going back to denial and letting it happen. I wonder if Alexandria and the other small communities of Louisiana will be able to get a Federal State of Emergency signed in time. I’m not hopeful. Eastern New Orleans is still waiting for a lot of help after the destruction of the February 7 Tornado Outbreak.
This so didn’t have to happen.
I don’t know how much longer I can endure hearing or seeing either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump on TV or any place else. How did two throwbacks to the past become installed as “leaders” when they basically look to turn our national dreams into the national nightmares of the past? Headlines regale us of the antics of old, snotty white men like Bernie, Donald, and Mitch McConnell who are desperately trying to put women, minorities, immigrants, and the GLBT community back in their historical places. Alarms should be sounding constantly. Hell is being rained on our civil rights, liberties, and democracy. Just “Gimme Some Truth”.
There are some incredible and powerful reads for you today. Here’s the one on my list from the LA Times. They’re running a four part series on the incredible lying Kremlin Caligula. Here’s the link to the Sunday Op Ed that kicks it off: “Our Dishonest President”. Don the Con may soon replace Tricky Dicky in the National Hall of Shameful Presidential Crooks.
It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”
Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.
Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.
In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.
His attempt to de-insure millions of people who had finally received healthcare coverage and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has been put on hold for the moment. But he is proceeding with his efforts to defang the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat the Pentagon’s budget even as he supposedly retreats from the global stage.
These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken this country’s moral standing in the world, imperil the planet and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency.
What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.
Go savor every word of it.
Yes. The Trumptanic is going down. What will it take with it? This is from the keyboard of Jonathan Allen writing for Roll Call.
Dear Republican member of the House:
Run away from Donald Trump. Run hard. Run fast. And don’t look over your shoulder.
This president doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t share your values, and a dumpster fire would be envious of his reckless disregard for everything and everyone around him.
Senate Republicans have figured this out, and their distancing act is well underway. Sure, they say supportive things, but look at their actions.
When Trump’s first bill was headed toward the House floor, several Senate Republicans openly pressed their colleagues not to pass it. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t crack down on them a bit. And, when the clunky-at-best legislation was pulled from the floor, he pronounced it dead even as the White House and House GOP leaders were explaining how they might revive it
The chances that we will see impeachment are going up as quickly as Trump’s poll numbers are plummeting. This is from Juan Williams writing for The Hill.
Last week, a new poll from the liberal outfit Public Policy Polling (PPP) asked Americans if President Trump should resign if evidence emerges that his campaign worked with Russia to help defeat Hillary Clinton. A majority, 53 percent, said he should resign.
That is important because PPP also found that 44 percent of Americans already believe that Trump’s campaign did just that.
It is no fantasy to say the drip-drip-drip of the Trump-Russia investigations is draining this presidency of political capital. The president’s historically high disapproval rating — 51 percent in the latest McClatchy poll — tells the same story.
That’s why astute Republicans are starting to look out for themselves.
The first Republican to begin to run for cover was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who decided to recuse himself from any role in the investigation. Last week Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, sought immunity in exchange for his testimony to congressional investigators.
A majority of Americans want a special prosecutor — including 39 percent of Republicans, according to one poll. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called for Congress to form a bipartisan select committee to probe ties between Russia and the Trump camp.
I loved this headline from Raw Story: Trump allies in short supply as DC finds out trusting him is ‘like putting your faith in a human IED’. It talks about Trump’s new war on the Freedom Caucus.
At heart, the Freedom Caucus agrees with the basic principle of Trumpism: that Washington doesn’t work, that its members are denizens of a corrupt and dysfunctional swamp, and that only a revolution in its operations can save the republic. The dilemma for Trump is that conservatives largely built their base of support on fierce opposition to the establishment agenda, and an ability to gum it up to the point nothing gets done. Its hardline members think it’s better to maintain gridlock rather than allow bad government to continue.
Trump may agree with that, but as president he also needs to get things done. He made promises after all: to repeal Obamacare, to reshape the tax system, to build a wall … lots of things. If he can’t follow through, what’s the point of being president
Unfortunately, Trump’s inexperience and basic lack of understanding of government – and reluctance to learn – evidently included ignorance of the fact the president lacks the power of a chief executive, and is dependent on Congress to approve major initiatives. He can’t just wave his hand and order compliance. He needs the votes. But Democrats won’t vote with him out of principle, and moderate Republicans still recall how gleefully he savaged them during his election bid. He pretty much dedicated himself to chasing their sorry asses out of Washington.
Doncha love it when you can watch Evil fight Evil?
This all will undoubtedly happen but only after the Republicans pull their prize from the National Crack Jack box. That would be the radical and unfit Gorsuch being placed to do decades of damage on the Supreme Court. Mitch McConnell wants white male supremacy so badly that he’s going to go nuclear.
Senators in both parties are speculating that a blowup over President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court could lead not only to the end of the filibuster for such nominations, but for controversial legislation as well.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the legislative filibuster is safe, lawmakers fear that pressure will grow to get rid of it if Democrats block Neil Gorsuch’s nomination this week.
McConnell has all but promised to change the Senate’s rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed in a majority vote if Democrats filibuster him.
The showdown will take place later this week after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Monday.
Senators in both parties are worried about how the fight over Gorsuch will affect the filibuster.
“The thing I worry most about is that we become like the House of Representatives. What’s the next step? Legislation?” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“I’m convinced it’s a slippery slope.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned last week on the Senate floor that growing pressure from the right and the left will make it difficult to withstand calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster.
“If we continue on the path we’re on right now, the very next time there’s a legislative proposal that one side of the aisle feels is so important they cannot let their base down, the pressure builds, then we’re going to vote the nuclear option on the legislative piece,” he said.
“That’s what will happen. Somebody will do it.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of only three Democrats who have explicitly said they’d oppose a filibuster of Gorsuch, warns the Senate is in danger of becoming a smaller version of the House, where the minority party has few rights.
“People who have been here for a long time know that we’re going down the wrong path here. The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House,” he said.
“I’m doing whatever I can to preserve he 60-vote rule,” he said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who like Manchin says she will vote to allow Gorsuch’s nomination to move forward, said she is also concerned about the legislative filibuster.
“This erosion that seems to be happening, of course I’m worried about it,” she said.
Gorsuch picked up a third Democratic vote on Sunday when Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) said he would back him
It’s being reported (NPR here) that the Dems have to votes to filibuster.
Senate Democrats now have enough votes to block the Supreme Court nomination under current Senate rules, which require 60 votes to proceed on a nomination.
That sets up a showdown later this week that will likely lead to a reinterpretation of Senate rules, so that the nominations of Supreme Court justices can be advanced with 51-vote majorities, rather than the preliminary 60-vote threshold that has long applied to high court nominations.
“If we have to, we will change the rules,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said during Monday’s Judiciary Committee meeting. “It looks like we’re going to have to.”
Yup, right. We’ve learned that this last few years in spades. The Republican motto is “Cheat if you have to”.
So, I’ve saved the best for last. You must read this excerpt of a book by Susan Bordo at The Guardian: ‘The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists’. It’s a long and cathartic read.
Many books have been written about the way racial differences among feminists both divided and pushed feminist thinking and practice forward over the past several decades. In the 2016 election, however, it was not race but generation that was the dynamic factor among left-leaning women. Women like me, who experienced many cultural battles in the “gender wars” firsthand – from the first scornful comments that journalists had heaped on “women’s libbers”, to the public shaming of Anita Hill, to the renewed threats to bodily rights that we thought we had won decades earlier – brought to the 2016 campaign a personal knowledge of the fragility of feminist accomplishments and an identification with Hillary that was deeper and longer than any current headlines.
We may have winced – as I did – when Madeleine Albright quoted a coffee-cup version of feminism or Hillary said “deal me in”. But we understood that behind every seeming appeal to “sisterhood” was the history of what was indeed a revolution – and one that was far from over. We knew the role Hillary had played in that revolution, and the price she had paid for it. Many of us, too, had followed Clinton through the course of her public career, had read her autobiography, and knew very well that the accusation that she had come to issues concerning racial and economic justice late and “for political purposes” was among the most extraordinary fabrications of the campaign.
Many younger women, on the other hand – no less feminist, no less committed to gender equality – had formed their ideas about “the Clintons”, as Savannah Barker reminds us, in the shadow of 20 years of relentless personal and political attacks. Few of them – as I know from decades of teaching courses on feminism, gender issues, and the social movements of the 60s – were aware of the “living history” (to borrow Hillary’s phrase) that shaped the woman herself.
These young women weren’t around when the GOP, appalled that liberals like the Clintons had somehow grabbed political power, began a series of witchhunts that have never ended. (Hillary was correct: it has been a “vast rightwing conspiracy”, from the Spectator magazine’s “Arkansas Project”, designed specifically to take Bill Clinton down, to Kenneth Starr’s relentless digging into Bill’s private life, to the Benghazi and email investigations.)
They hadn’t experienced a decade of culture wars in which feminists’ efforts to bring histories of gender and race struggle into the educational curriculum were reduced to a species of political correctness. They didn’t witness the complicated story of how the 1994 crime bill came to be passed or the origins of the “super-predator” label (not coined by Hillary and not referring to black youth, but rather to powerful, older drug dealers).
It isn’t necessary, of course, to have firsthand knowledge of history in order to have an informed idea of events and issues. When it came to Hillary Clinton, however, sorting out fact from politically motivated fiction was a difficult task, particularly if one’s knowledge was filtered through the medium of election-year battles.
The 2016 election was no academically rigorous history course; it was dominated by versions of Hillary Clinton constructed by her political opponents and transmitted by reporters who usually don’t see offering context as their job and don’t have the time (or, for some, the inclination) to sort fact from fiction. And then, too, after decades of harsh schooling in the ways of politics and the media, Hillary herself was no longer the outspoken feminist who chastised reporters when they questioned her life choices, but a cautious campaigner who measured her words with care.
I knew just what one of my graduate students meant when I asked her how millennial feminists saw Hillary and she said “a white lady”. A white woman herself, she wasn’t referring to the colour of Hillary’s skin, or even her racial politics, but rather what was perceived as her membership in the dominant class, all cleaned up and normalised, aligned with establishment power rather than the forces of resistance, and stylistically coded (her tightly coiffed hair; her neat, boring pantsuits; her circumspection) with her membership in that class. When I looked at Hillary, I saw someone very different – but I understood the basis for my student’s perception.
So that’s a long excerpt but I had trouble just finding one little nugget to highlight.
Which brings me to Bernie and Berning Down the House. Bernie’s Tad Devine appears to be yet another Paul Manafort with deep ties and economic interests with Russians. Berners and Trumpsters were taken in by Russian Bots and propaganda. Many of them are still dead enders that insist on some kind of “progressive purity”. After I go after these ties in two links, I will return to the Bordo book. (And I am amazed at how I want to say Bardo when I see her name.)
But Manafort was not the only American political consultant in 2016 who had a checkered history of muddying the waters of international politics. In 2009 Manafort was working to help improve the image of pro-Russian Ukranian politician Viktor Yanukovych in an effort to make the presidential nominee seem more accessible, and thus more palatable, to the American Congress. Joining Manafort in that effort was an American consultant named Tad Devine, a man who himself had a dubious history of foreign intervention. Among Devine’s highlights is having worked for exiled Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2002 as well as ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in 2005. Devine then worked for Yanukovych from 2006 up until he was elected president of Ukraine in 2010. Like both Lozada and Zelaya, Yanukovych has since been removed from power and he currently resides in exile in Russia and just happens to be wanted for treason in Ukraine.
In addition to having supported corrupt politicians abroad, Devine has also supported unsuccessful presidential candidates here at home. Devine had increasing roles in the campaigns of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Kerry, Al Gore, and John Kerry. After having previously worked on actual successful campaigns for Bernie Sanders’ 1996 congressional run as well as his 2006 senatorial run, Devine officially joined Sanders’ presidential campaign as a senior advisor in May of 2015. Over the course of the next fourteen months, Devine not only became one of the mouthpieces of the campaign but was also able to net himself a pretty penny. According to Slate, through both his consulting work as well as his work with Old Time Media, Devine was able to net himself roughly $10 million through his work on the campaign. For a campaign that prided itself as going to fight for the little guy, Devine, an establishment political consultant and friend of Bernie Sanders, seemed perfectly content to pocket millions of dollars.
But Devine’s hefty payday might not have been paid for entirely by gullible Americans giving $27 each. Throughout the Democratic primary, the Sanders campaign was cited for FEC violations on three separate occasions including a mysterious $10 million donation from a single address in Washington, DC. Despite consistent calls for financial transparency on the campaign trail, the Sanders campaign was exceedingly secretive when it came to its own finances. After twice filing for extensions from the FEC, the Sanders campaign ultimately decided to forgo its final financial disclosure statement in June citing the fact that campaign was no longer active. This decision was accompanied by the news that Sanders himself had purchased a $575,000 home in August, much to the dismay of his loyal followers. The home would be the third residence for Sanders, someone who railed against a system that increasingly favored the millionaires and billionaires of our country.
Yet these financial gains for both Devine and Sanders would never have been possible had it not been for the millions of campaign contributions that came their way. And the only way to get campaign contributions is to convince your supporters you might actually have a chance to win. Luckily for Devine and Sanders, they had some foreign friends who were willing to step in. As reported by Rachel Maddow late on Tuesday, there existed an army of Russian bots who were weaponized to influence our election. Many of them took to various social media sites to discredit and disrupt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and thus, enegize potential Bernie Sanders supporters. Knowing that Clinton had been a target of right-wing media smears for a quarter-century, all the bots had to do was plant this seed to potential Sanders supporters, many of whom had no experience in politics, to get them onboard with the Sanders campaign. By doing this, Sanders and Devine were able to successfully pocket millions of dollars all while pretending to be champions of the common man.
Indeed, some estimates now say that as much as one-fifth of Twitter traffic was controlled by pro-Trump, anti-Clinton bots and troll accounts during the election. With these #MAGA account attacks, it was relatively easy to block them and move on — emotionally, at least, as the abuse they delivered was easy to deflect because “they” were not “people” with whom I believed I had values in common in the first place.
However, the rest of the abuse came from accounts purporting to be supporters of Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. And these were “people” with whom I believed I shared common values and policy interests. Almost all of the accounts presented as men — mostly young and white — and used sexist and misogynistic tones and words. I was called “mom” and “grandma” as epithets by these “young men.” I was called every vile sexualized name you can imagine. For some reason that I did not understand at the time, they liked to call me a “vagina.” (I now believe non-native English — i.e. Russian — speakers wrote the algorithms controlling these bots and perhaps imagined “vagina” to be the equivalent of the c-word when hurled at a woman.) Not being conversant in the mechanisms of Russian psychological warfare techniques at the time, it never occurred to me that, like the #MAGA bots, these “Bernie Bro” accounts were actually bots too.
And the abuse from these accounts was much harder to dismiss. It wentin further, emotionally speaking. The vitriol of the attacks felt like a painful betrayal. After all, “we” probably shared 99 percent of our political perspective; we just supported different candidates — which is something I said repeatedly in my attempts to appeal to reason with some of the attackers over the course of those long months. Nonetheless, even the mildest criticism of Sanders or comment of support for Clinton would bring out a swarm of these “Bernie Bro” accounts spouting off with abusive language and mockery.
It was not just me who experienced this — nearly every female supporter of Clinton I know who was outspoken on Twitter or Facebook received similar treatment. In addition, men of color who were vocal Clinton supporters were targeted in a similar way. The abuse was also highly targeted toward journalists, especially female journalists reporting on the primary and opinion journalists who were supportive of Clinton.
None of us knew we were being targeted for psychological warfare by a foreign power during these exchanges.
The attacks started in late 2015 and escalated through early 2016. Most of these accounts no longer exist to link to, but others on twitter noticed similar patterns.
I am now called a “pantsuiter” by progressive Dems who still think Bernie’s the future. It’s a the same as being called a gramdma by a damned Russian Troll and they were obviously well-schooled by them. Back to the brilliant Susan Bordo.
And as much as I am in agreement with many of his ideas, Bernie Sanders splintered and ultimately sabotaged the Democratic party – not because he chose to run against Hillary Clinton, but because of how he ran against her.
Sanders often boasted about the importance of the issues rather than individuals, of not playing dirty politics or running nasty ads in his campaign. And it’s certainly true that he didn’t slime Hillary by bringing Bill’s sexual accusers forward or by recommending that she be put in jail, as Trump did. He also seemed, at the beginning of the primary season, to be refreshingly dismissive about the “email scandal”: “Enough already about the damned emails!” he shouted at the first debate, and I remember thinking “Good man, Bernie! Way to go!” But within months, taking advantage of justified frustration with politics as usual (a frustration more appropriately aimed at GOP stonewalling of Democratic legislation), Sanders was taking Hillary down in a different way: as an establishment tool and creature of Wall Street.
“I think, frankly,” he said in January, campaigning in New Hampshire, “it’s hard to be a real progressive and to take on the establishment in a way that I think [it] has to be taken on, when you come as dependent as she has through her super PAC and in other ways on Wall Street and drug-company money.”
Progressive. It’s a term with a long, twisty history. In the 19th century, it was associated with those who argued for the moral “cleansing” of the nation. A century ago, both racist Southern Democrats and the founders of the NAACP claimed it for their purposes. The Communist party has described itself as progressive. By the time Sanders argued that Clinton was “not a true progressive”, the word was not very useful descriptively – one can be progressive in some ways and not so progressive in others, and no politician that I know of has ever struck every progressive chord. Context matters, too. As Jonathan Cohn wrote, in May: “If Sanders is the standard by which you’re going to decide whether a politician is a progressive, then almost nobody from the Democratic party would qualify. Take Sanders out of the equation, and suddenly Clinton looks an awful lot like a mainstream progressive.”
For Sanders supporters, however, progressive wasn’t an ill-defined, historically malleable label, but rather a badge of honor, a magical talisman for those who considered themselves anti-establishment. It may have been “a fallback identifier for pretty much anyone The Nation and its journalistic kin smiled upon” (as Michael Kazin described it), but it was an identifier with a great deal of potency, particularly for a younger generation longing for lives organised around something other than job hunting. When Sanders denied that badge of honour to Clinton he wasn’t distinguishing his agenda from hers (their positions on most issues were, in reality, pretty similar), he was excluding her from the company of the good and pure – and in the process, limiting what counted as progressive causes, too. His list didn’t include the struggle for reproductive rights or affordable child care. Nor, at the beginning of his campaign, was there much emphasis on racial justice.
So which ones on the list did the Trumpsters and Berners fall for and who was duped the worst?
First, there’s provokatsiya (provocation), which is the cornerstone of the Russian espionage worldview. This part of Kremlin spy culture is older than the Bolsheviks, dating to the late Tsarist era, when Russia invented the modern intelligence agency to fight anarchist terrorists.
Provocation is complicated, but at its most basic involves secret acts to confuse and dismay your enemy. The recent antics of Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee—positing conflicting and unsubstantiated allegations of malfeasance by our spy agencies—are a classic provocation designed to divert attention from the White House as its Russia crisis mounts. Regardless of whether anyone in Russia has a hand in this, the Kremlin surely approves.
Provokatsiya gets more complicated and nefarious from there, with the ultimate aim of turning the tables on your enemy and defeating him detail—before he realizes what’s happened. As I’ve explained, this involves a lot of shady stuff such as:
Taking control of your enemies in secret and encouraging them to do things that discredit them and help you. You plant your own agents provocateurs and flip legitimate activists, turning them to your side…While this isn’t a particularly nice technique, it works surprisingly well, particularly if you don’t care about bloody and messy consequences.
Moscow is alarmingly forward-leaning about provocation, and the Kremlin’s traditional devil-may-care attitude about these dirty tricks means it’s a safe bet that when you encounter rabid anti-Putin activists, there’s a solid chance some of them are secretly working for the Russians.
So far, it’s been a slow news day. Deadly tornadoes, bombs in St Petersburg, and threats from North Korea, plus a boatload of hearings and a vote on a nimrod SCOTUS nomination are all up for grabs. (Snark font on)
Let me know what’s on your mind and blogging list today. I’d like to go back to bed but I have to grade homework. I’m tired and seriously behind. I need to go soak in some sun too while it’s out there.
First, a public service announcement: Dakinikat told me about a digital demonstration that is happening today called “Fire the Fool.” You can read about it at this website. It doesn’t seem to be getting any news coverage (I can find no articles on Google News), so I don’t know how successful it will be. I’m going to pass, but I encourage anyone who thinks it would be fun to join in. It can’t hurt. Here’s their statement of purpose:
#Flood45 is YOUR chance to make it clear that you are ready to FIRE THE FOOLS in government who have abandoned the most sacred American ideals!
Download the PINK SLIP graphic at the bottom of this page and fill out why you want to FIRE trump. Then on APRIL 1st, attach a picture or video of yourself holding the pink slip on twitter at 12PM EST with this tweet:
.@realDonaldTrump We the People are serving you with your termination notice. You represent nothing that we stand for. YOU’RE FIRED #Flood45
To download the graphics, point your cursor over the image and right-click OR control click. Select “save as” and type in the location on your computer you wish to save and you will have a printable graphic!
Have fun with it! We’ll be online all day sharing all the pics and vids that come scrolling through the feed.
This is going to be such a fun day where We the People deliver a powerful statement to those FOOLS in government who have chosen their party and pocketbooks over the needs and safety of the American people.
The group’s FAQ explains that this isn’t aimed specifically at Trump–on of my problems with the idea–and “fire the fool” applies to officials in either party. They also claim that the women’s march was not directed at Trump. That wasn’t my understanding. If so, why was it planned for the day after the inauguration? The FAQ also reveals that this group is based in Nevada, but no names are provided. There is also a list of speakers, but no information about when and where they will speak. Perhaps you have to sign up to find out. If anyone has more information, please post it in the comment thread.
One clever touch on the “declaration” page is a set of playing cards that depict members of the Trump administration. I’ve used some of those to illustrate this post.
Now on to today’s news.
Yesterday, the Guardian had an interesting article about former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn revealing new information on why the intelligence community was concerned about Flynn long before Trump appointed him the the top post.
US and British intelligence officers discussed Flynn’s “worrisome” behaviour well before his appointment last year by Donald Trump, multiple sources have said.
They raised concerns about Flynn’s ties to Russia and his perceived obsession with Iran. They were also anxious about his capacity for “linear thought” and some actions that were regarded as highly unusual for a three-star general….
One concern involved an encounter with a Russian-British graduate student, Svetlana Lokhova, whom Flynn met on a trip to Cambridge in February 2014.
At the time, Flynn was one of the top US spies and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which provides information to the Pentagon about the military strengths and intentions of other states and terrorist groups.
Lokhova claimed to be writing a book about the GRU and said she had had access to the secretive spy agency’s archives, something that other historians say is “…basically impossible.” Flynn was quite taken with this woman and kept in touch with her for some time.
Flynn and Lokhova were introduced to each other at the end of a dinner attended by 20 guests who included Sir Richard Dearlove – the former head of MI6 – and Prof Christopher Andrew, the official MI5 historian.
Flynn says the meeting with Lokhova was “incidental” and lasted just 20 minutes. However, Andrew has said Flynn invited Lokhova to accompany him on his next official visit to Moscow to help with simultaneous translation. The trip fell through soon afterwards because of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Andrew wrote in the Sunday Times.
The Guardian understands Flynn and Lokhova remained in email contact, conducted through an unclassified channel. In one email exchange described by Andrew, Flynn signed himself as “General Misha”, Russian for Mike.
Lokhova also listed Flynn as one of four referees who would provide selective endorsements for her book, which is expected to detail how Russian spies penetrated the US atomic weapons programme.
Not 100 days into the Trump presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: it is completely unsustainable as it is operating today.
There are even rumblings in the seams of Washington that Trump may not last the summer, including Republican consultant Michael Steele, the former RNC chairman, reportedly telling clients to prepare for President Pence.
Indeed, something fundamental seemed to shift in the zeitgeist this week with General Michael Flynn’s Hail Mary offer to testify about Russiagate in exchange for immunity. The Senate intelligence community has already turned down Flynn’s offer, and it’s hard to imagine the House committee, led by the thoroughly compromised Devin Nunes, having the political capital to say yes. For the FBI to agree, Flynn would have to offer up someone bigger than him to make it worth the agency’s while. One wonders who that could be: Paul Manafort? He’s been around the political block much longer than Flynn and knows where more bodies are buried. Wouldn’t he be a better immunity target if you’re an elected Republican? Donald Trump? What would Flynn claim Trump personally did to advance Russia’s interference in our election, other than dutifully repeat Kremlin talking points, which we already know? Does he have some proof that Trump took a bribe? Broke a law? Made an incriminating phone call?
And if he doesn’t, what would be the point of merely hearing the “story he has to tell.”
Read the rest at the link above. Reid doesn’t even mention the “woman” problem, but there’s plenty else there that looks very bad for Flynn and Trump.
According to Politico, Trump is looking to “reorganize” his administration after the epic failure of the Trump-Ryan “health care” bill.
In interviews over the last week, several senior aides said they were carefully examining how the beleaguered administration functions as they weigh possible fixes. Among the top concerns: The circular firing squad continually playing out in the press pitting top aides against one another — a dynamic that one senior adviser described as increasingly unsustainable.
“It will have to either stop or there will have to be decisions made,” this person said, hinting that more serious changes would be made if the incessant shooting doesn’t end.
The discussions provide a window into an embattled administration that is scrambling to find answers. It’s also an acknowledgment that the White House is not the “fine-tuned machine” that Trump has sought to portray.
Of course the Trump gang claims there’s nothing to this story, but two top advisers were already shown the door yesterday. Boris Epshteyn left a few days ago. The other top adviser who’s leaving is Katie Walsh.
Walsh became the West Wing’s first casualty, when it was announced on Thursday that she would be departing to help run a pro-Trump outside group. Within the White House, the departure was seen as a blow to the influence of chief of staff Reince Priebus, who counted Walsh as a longtime lieutenant.
Those who have spoken with Priebus in recent days said he has expressed frustration with his own diminished power in the West Wing and with Walsh’s departure. One person close to the president described Walsh, who was an accomplished Republican fundraiser before becoming Priebus’s top aide, as the chief of staff’s “oxygen tank.”
White House aides strenuously deny that Priebus’s job is in jeopardy. But Trump, who churned through three campaign managers in 18 months, has a history of shuffling through top staff – sometimes abruptly. And one senior adviser said that aides with political and campaign backgrounds would gradually “fall off” and make way for others.
Read more at the Politico link.
More gossip from Politico: Kushner’s privileged status stokes resentment in White House.
In a White House where President Donald Trump commands reverence, Jared Kushner often refers to the president by one name: Donald. And while cable TV can dominate the president’s mood and set the agenda for senior administration staff, Kushner usually keeps his large flat-screen TV in his office turned off, a stark departure from other top aides.
Kushner, the president’s 36-year-old son-in-law and White House senior adviser, does essentially what he wants, having the benefit of not only Trump’s ear but — as a family member — his implicit trust.
That trust has resulted in a vast portfolio that so far includes negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, helping oversee relations with Canada, China and Mexico and, as of this week, reinventing the federal government through the new White House Office of American Innovation.
But Kushner’s status as the big-issue guru has stoked resentment among his colleagues, who question whether Kushner is capable of following through on his various commitments and complain that his dabbling in myriad issues and his tendency to walk in and out of meetings have complicated efforts to instill more order and organization into the chaotic administration. These people also say Kushner can be a shrewd self promoter, knowing how to take credit — and shirk blame — whenever it suits him.
“He’s saving the government and the Middle East at the same time,” one senior administration official quipped.
Much more at the link.
And from don’t forget “first lady” Ivanka’s role in the family kleptocracy: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Still Benefiting From Business Empire, Filings Show.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities, according to ethics filings released by the White House Friday night.
Ms. Trump will also maintain a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel, just down the street from the White House, has drawn protests from ethics experts who worry that foreign governments or special interests could stay there in order to curry favor with the administration.
It is unclear how Ms. Trump would earn income from that stake. Mr. Kushner’s financial disclosures said that Ms. Trump earned between $1 million and $5 million from the hotel between January 2016 and March 2017, and put the value of her stake at between $5 million and $25 million.
The disclosures were part of a broad, Friday-night document release by the White House that exposed the assets of as many as 180 senior officials to public scrutiny. The reports showed the assets and wealth of senior staff members at the time they entered government service.
Read about all the other financial filings at the NYT link a above.
What else is happening. Plenty! Let us know what stories you are following in the comment thread below, and have a terrific weekend!
The quote of the day comes from George W. Bush and his immediate reaction to tRump’s Inauguration speech.
The inauguration of Donald Trump was a surreal experience for pretty much everyone who witnessed it, whether or not they were at the event and regardless of who they supported in the election. On the dais, the stoic presence of Hillary Clinton — whom candidate Trump had said he would send to prison if he took office — underlined the strangeness of the moment. George W. Bush, also savaged by Trump during the campaign, was there too. He gave the same reason for attending that Bill and Hillary Clinton did: to honor the peaceful transfer of power….
Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony.
But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.
The “weird sh*t” has continued during the first weeks of the tRump presidency, and it’s likely to remain that way. Every day Americans are flustered by new revelations about Russia’s aid to tRump during the election campaign as well as tRump’s wacko tweets and executive orders. We’ve watched the House Intelligence Committee devolve into chaos as its chairman worked with the White House to sabotage his own committee’s investigation. Every day we witness Sean Spicer’s bizarre press briefings, in which he repeatedly attacks reporters and blatantly lies in response to their questions. We’ve even found ourselves in partial agreement with people like GW Bush and Dick Cheney.
Today the Senate Intelligence Committee is holding a public hearing on Russia’s involvement in the election (It’s on C-Span 3 right now). Will tRump try to compromise their efforts too?
The Senate intelligence committee has asked 20 people to be questioned in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday.
“This one is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my time here,” Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference with committee vice-chairman Mark Warner. Burr’s been in the Senate since 2005, and served in the House since 1995.
Burr and Warner say they have 20 witnesses they plan to interview and have scheduled interviews with five of them so far. The committee leaders said that they are happy that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have agreed to testify, but they have not yet decided when they will bring them in.
“To date, we have made 20 requests for individuals to be interviewed by the committee,” Burr said. “As we stand here today, five are already scheduled on the books, and probably within the next 10 days the remaining 15 will have a scheduled date for those individuals to be interviewed by our staff. We anticipate inviting additional individuals to come and be interviewed, and ultimately some of those interviewed individuals may turn into private or public hearings by the committee, but yet to be determined.”
Among those the committee appears to have talked to: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after he misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
“It would be safe to say we have had conversations with a lot of people, and it would be safe to say Gen Flynn is a part of that list,” Burr said.
General Flynn has been talking to them? How very interesting. The Committee is also negotiating with Christopher Steele about testifying. He is the former British spy who compiled the famous Trump “dossier.”
There are new Russia stories out in the media too.
In June, a Belarusan American businessman who goes by the name Sergei Millian shared some tantalizing claims about Donald Trump.
Trump had a long-standing relationship with Russian officials, Millian told an associate, and those officials were now feeding Trump damaging information about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Millian said that the information provided to Trump had been “very helpful.”
Unbeknownst to Millian, however, his conversation was not confidential. His associate passed on what he had heard to a former British intelligence officer who had been hired by Trump’s political opponents to gather information about the Republican’s ties to Russia.
The allegations by Millian — whose role was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and has been confirmed by The Washington Post — were central to the dossier compiled by the former spy, Christopher Steele. While the dossier has not been verified and its claims have been denied by Trump, Steele’s document said that Millian’s assertions had been corroborated by other sources, including in the Russian government and former intelligence sources.
The most explosive allegation that the dossier says originally came from Millian is the claim that Trump had hired prostitutes at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton and that the Kremlin has kept evidence of the encounter.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
BBC News: Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified.’ The subhead: “The BBC has learned that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.” This is a long article, so please click on the link and read the whole thing. Here’s a taste:
The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6….At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”
There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin….
If anyone looks like a harmless economist, rather than a tough, arrogant KGB man, it is the bland-faced Kalugin.
But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.
It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele’s report on the “diplomat”, as early as May 2016.
But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.
A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.
Read the rest at BBC News.
Is the tRump administration already failing? Ezra Klein writes at Vox: 70 days in, Donald Trump’s presidency is flailing.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke every rule of politics — and he won anyway.
He dominated the Republican primary by running against the Republican Party. He repulsed the GOP’s key leaders and emerged all the stronger for it. He delighted in conspiracy theories and schoolyard insults. He contradicted himself routinely, but managed to sell his flip-flops as evidence of pragmatism rather than proof of dishonesty. He knew nothing about policy, didn’t bother to learn more, and profited from the uncertainty about his true positions. His campaign was clearly assisted by Russian hackers, but the story was overwhelmed by the obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And then, of course, there was the election itself — Trump trailed in the polls, barely built a field operation, lost the popular vote, and then won the presidency.
Like many who covered Trump, I found it hard, after all this, to predict the likely path of his presidency. Perhaps he could defy every norm and succeed there too. But with every day that passes, Trump is looking more bound by the political system he promised to upend. The outcomes we’re seeing look like what you’d expect from an inexperienced, unfocused president who’s more interested in tweeting out cable news commentary than learning about the government he runs and the policies he wants to change. Merely 10 weeks into his term, the processes, skills, and institutions Trump flouted as a candidate are breaking him as a president.
Read the the details of Klein’s argument at Vox.
I have lots of stories for you today; the rest will be links only.
Foreign Policy podcast: Has Moscow Already Taken Down the Trump Administration?
New York Times: Ivanka Trump, Shifting Plans, Will Become a Federal Employee.
What stories are you following today?
Last night, for the first time since November 8, 2016, I went to bed happy. Thanks in large part to the millions of Americans who marched in the streets, went to town halls or their representatives’ offices to defend Obamacare, the attempt by tRump and Ryan to destroy the health care system has been thwarted–at least for the time being.
Trump is being roasted in the media. Here are a few stories to check out, links only because there are so many:
Politico: Trump gets tamed by Washington (click on this one if only to view the absolute worst photo of tRump’s hair so far).
The New York Times: How the Health Care Vote Fell Apart, Step by Step.
Jonathan Chait: Why Obamacare Defeated Trumpcare.
I want to highlight one aspect of the tRump strategy. He let Steve Bannon talk to the Freedom Caucus, and it did not go well.